February 26, 2016

“How to Think Like Einstein” by Scott Thorpe


c.2015, Sourcebooks $16.99 / $22.99 Canada 272 pages

Right in front of your nose.

That’s where you usually find the solution to sticky problems: always right there, where you weren’t necessarily looking. This time, though, there’s no easy answer, no matter how much you ponder and pick but if you read the new book “How to Think Like Einstein” by Scott Thorpe, you could become a genius at things like this.

Ever since revealing his Theory of Relativity in 1905, Albert Einstein’s held a special place in science, history, and culture. E = mc2 and Einstein = genius.

That was true in the early years of Einstein’s career: fresh out of university, he was alight with “truly revolutionary thinking” but, alas, the fire waned as he got older. “He was still brilliant,” says Thorpe, but Einstein didn’t do the kind of work he did when he was a lad. Thorpe blames Einstein’s growing knowledge and his decreasing willingness to “break the rules.”

And that, Thorpe says, is what made Einstein so darn smart: he was happy to ignore conventional wisdom and get out of “rule ruts.” Though we are trained to heed rules in life and in work, breaking them, he claims, is the “universal principle” for thinking like a genius.

Wrestling with the unsolvable starts with writing the problem as a statement that “focuses your mind.” Identify why you want the problem solved and what you’ve already tried to do. What are the “rules” that might govern this issue?

Once you’ve identified the problem, “create a better one” by “resizing” the conundrum, making it simpler, and changing your attitude towards it. Try to look at it differently, then write it down again.

Journal your ideas, and remember that there are no “bad ideas” when problem-solving. Learn methods to escape those irksome rule ruts. Know how to bust rules and “ignore inconvenient facts.” And finally, keep in mind that “Mistakes are essential to growing ideas.” Don’t make them on purpose but don’t discount them, either.

Sometimes, it’s too easy to get too close to a problem, which makes it impossible to get past the issue. “How to Think Like Einstein” might help.

And then again, it might not.

I thought it odd that author Scott Thorpe puts the gist of his entire book on the bottom of the very first page: “…you’ve got to break the rules.” You know everything you need to know right there; what follows is just enhancement for those six words. It also struck me that problem-solving often doesn’t have the luxury of time, of which Thorpe’s process demands a fair amount. Readers do receive a nicely-varied, well-researched wealth of interesting illustrative anecdotes, but they were more entertaining than helpful in the immediate raison d’être of this book.

I think there’s goodness here – in particular, an entire chapter of group exercises for breaking out of the “rule ruts” – but past that, help is going to take some serious digging. Indeed, the solutions you’ll find in “How to Think Like Einstein” are not as plain as the nose on your face.

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